Education in theology is a gift, and there are many avenues for instruction. May you fan the flame of another’s hunger for God and His Word.
By Mary Wiley
At 14 years old, I read Systematic Theology from cover to cover.
My youth minister had gifted me his copy from seminary—likely to buy himself some time away from the barrage of questions I came armed with each week. Unfortunately for him, that break was short. I was so hungry to understand God and His Word that I couldn’t put it down, which led to more (and more complicated) questions—a double miss for my poor minister.
As I considered college, I wanted to pursue an education in theology. I had felt God calling me to the ministry at 12 years old and had wrestled with what that calling meant for my future. What was I going to do? I didn’t feel called to missions, but as a young female, I had not seen women serve in any other capacity other than as a pastor’s wife. And theological education seemed superfluous if missions was the route for me (and as a fiercely independent young adult, that route also seemed to have too many variables for my liking). So, I entered college as a nursing major, knowing the sight of blood made me extremely queasy but that medical professionals were highly valued on the field.
The shift to education in theology
I lasted about three weeks before I changed my major to English and Christian studies. Writing and reading had always been my first love, so I hoped God could use those on the mission field—maybe in teaching English as a second language. I must mention here that I had some champions cheering me on in theological education. It was their insistence that made me think it truly could be valuable, even if I wasn’t training for similar work to the students who studied alongside me. Their encouragement moved me to pursue a double major because one was going to be for “real-world work” (I needed some marketable skill to make money to live) and one was just for me because I loved it.
Little did I know there would be a world of opportunities to use my gifts aligned with my calling for God’s glory, despite so many asking why I’d waste my money getting a degree I’d never use. I’m so glad I pursued a “just for fun” degree because, by God’s grace, I’ve used it every day in my work, in my church, and in my family. And I’ve been able to continue studying even now. My training has likely kept me from teaching all sorts of accidental heresies or misinterpretations in years of children’s ministry, women’s ministry, and resource writing and editing. What I thought was just an extra degree has been a beautiful guardrail for me in orthodoxy, protecting not just me but many around me as my responsibilities in ministry grew.
Equipping the called in your congregation
Many in our churches today find their responsibilities growing, but they did not have a youth minister willing to gift them their seminary textbook to stop their questions or a body that literally refused to pursue their intended major with threats of passing out or puking. Education in theology became a gift to me. It has given me clarity and simplicity in discussing God, His Word, and the gospel. And for those doing the work of ministry in our churches, there’s no greater gift we can give those we serve.“For those doing the work of ministry in our churches, there’s no greater gift we can give those we serve [than an education in theology].” — @marycwiley Click To Tweet
Today, many churches are hiring staff from within their local body, which is an incredible gift! We should celebrate when God builds disciples and then calls them to greater responsibility or even full-time ministry with that same local body. However, this also means there may be a lack of formal education. And newly entering into a full-time ministry role feels like the worst time to consider going back to school.
Maybe you or someone you lead finds themselves in a similar situation. You want to grow in your clarity of understanding and discussing God, His Word, and the gospel, but you don’t know where to begin. You don’t have the time or the money to enroll in seminary, but you do want to grow. Here are three ways to begin today:
1. Learn from teachers via video online
There are multiple platforms that offer theological training. My favorite for women is Lifeway Women Academy. It is designed for women and taught by women, with the first two courses focusing on hermeneutics (how to study the Bible) and systematic theology (what we believe, organized systematically to synthesize what the Bible teaches on each doctrine). I got to teach on Christology and salvation in the second course, and it was such a blessing to me!
2. Read books that sharpen and challenge you
Today, the teaching of world-renowned theologians is as close as your phone. Download a title or two to get started. Here are some recommended starting places:
- Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin (on how to study the Bible)
- Delighting in the Trinity by Michael Reeves (asking: who is God?)
- Everyday Theology: What You Believe Matters by Mary Wiley (Bible study to give you a foundation in systematic theology)
- None Like Him by Jen Wilkin / In His Image by Jen Wilkin (noncommunicable and communicable attributes of God)
There are so many others, but five is a good starting place. Within Lifeway Women Academy, you’ll find a broader reading list.
3. Do theology in community
Theology is for the church. The Bible is written to the church. There’s no better way to learn than to learn together. Cultivate a place in your local body to ask questions, talk through what you are learning, and sharpen one another. Read one of the books above together. Offer a theology course or how to read the Bible course in your local church. However you choose to engage, we go farther and do so more successfully when we go together.“Cultivate a place in your local body to ask questions, talk through what you are learning, and sharpen one another.” — @marycwiley Click To Tweet
A life-long pursuit
Education in theology is a gift, and there are so many avenues for instruction. May you be like my youth minister for another, fanning the flame of their hunger for God and His Word by providing a book or an avenue for further development. I pray God gives you a hunger for Him, no matter what education you do or do not have. The beauty of theological education is that there are no truly terminal degrees. We never stop learning and growing as God sanctifies our hearts and minds into the image of Christ. Developing our theology is a life-long journey and one that acts as both a guardrail and an accelerant in the ways of God, producing the fruit of righteousness.
For permission to republish this article, please email Marissa Postell Sullivan.
Mary is the author of Everyday Theology: What You Believe Matters, holds an MA in theological studies from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and works for B&H Publishing Group. She and her husband, John, have two children.
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